Picture this: the soon-to-be former President Bush's motorcade is driving down the pothole-ridden streets of Africa, passing by dozens of tar-skinned locals standing along the road-sides with huge, welcoming smiles, holding signs which read "OBAMA 08." It's the exact scene that was captured in a photograph my friend emailed me about two weeks ago.
By sheer coincidence, a few days later, I traveled to Accra, Ghana to visit relatives and get some much-needed rest. The fact that Ghanaians are interested in the U.S. presidential primaries didn't seem especially remarkable to me, not at first. Soon, I realized that it was much more than a mild or passing interest. The names "Clinton" and "Obama" pepper most lunchtime conversations, slide into the agendas of business meetings and, naturally, find a way into the idle chatter of the marketplaces, beauty shops and sports bars.
If folks aren't taking to the streets with their homemade campaign signs that's only because—as I found out in the wee hours of March 5th—they're glued to their TV sets, tuned into CNN, anxious to discover each new development in the race for the Democratic nomination. (If you hadn't guessed it already, there isn't a whole lot of love in these parts for John McCain or the Republican Party.)
Ghana is on Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). We're five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST) right now. (I say right now because Ghana doesn't observe Daylight Savings Time so when everybody else "springs forward" we, in classic CPT-fashion, keep moving to the beat of our own tick-tock.)
Before I went to bed on the night of March 4th, I tucked the remote control under my pillow and set my alarm for 2 a.m. Ghana-time, figuring that the polling centers in the East Coast states would close at 9 p.m. local their time. I'd barely been awake for an hour when my cell phone started ringing. All the calls were from people in Ghana.
There was no "hello," no query about whether I was awake or asleep, and no apologies for the middle-of-the-night disturbance. Each of my friends just jumped right in, started the conversation as casually and confidently as they might had it been half past three in the PM, not half past three in the AM: "Are you watching the results?"
By the time Barack Obama finally stepped up to the mic to speak, it was 5:00 AM. Having pretty much given up the idea of falling back to sleep, I started laying out my clothes for the day. "The eyes of the world are watching," he said during his speech.
"You're damned right they are," I said back to the television. Even as I was speaking the words, I didn't realize how true they were. Everywhere I went that day, somebody had an opinion to share about the U.S. elections.
"America will never let a black man become president," said a taxi driver. "But I got up early anyway to watch the TV. I want to see how close they will let Obama get."
"I think the future elections are in his favor, inshallah," a vendor told me. "Obama will win."
"I'm glad Clinton won," a woman admitted to me. "I love Barack Obama, but I fear for his life. Already he's stepped too far into danger. They will kill him. Clinton wants the thing so bad. Let her have it so the man can live. I say this for his wife and his children."
I'd started counting the number of people who'd mentioned to me that they'd either stayed up all night, or woken up in the middle of the night, to watch the news coverage but I eventually gave up when it started to feel like hard work; there were just too many—from my father, who happens to also be here on vacation, to shop-owners, to waiters, to the local politicians who are fast approaching their own presidential elections.
On the way home at the end of the day, I was talking to my friend, Anna, complaining about how exhausted I was. "You sound like my mom," she said. "Mom stayed up all night to find out how Barack Obama did. "Now that's the power of inspiration, I thought, when you can motivate a stranger in her late seventies to care that much about your fate. Or, I should say, our fate because the outcome of this election will have an impact on the entire world.
This election is putting America to the test. Beneath all the statements I hear there is always a challenge, a dare. America has spread its message of peace, democracy, liberty and equality throughout the world. Many people who live in foreign lands are familiar with the key parts of the United States' Declaration of Independence, its Pledge of Allegiance, its national anthem. As far as I can tell, the rest of the world is watching to see if or how America will practice what it preaches. And, to be sure, the eyes of the world are doing more than watching; they're also remembering.
Meri Nana-Ama Danquah is a regular contributor to The Root.